I’ve noticed a lot of internet advice on what NOT to say to a parent of an autistic child lately.
And, while helpful, it seems a bit snarky. It’s as though the authors want you to know how to behave but also want the world to know that you, at first, behaved badly.
I don’t really like it and, for my part, want everyone to know that I understand and I’m not offended. Autism doesn’t fit in a box and humans aren’t wired to respond to unquantified information. At best we stare. At worse we open our mouths and sing a song of ignorance.
Neither situation is ideal.
But, it’s not compassion that’s lacking it’s training. People just need to be told what to say. What is acceptable?
Never fear, I am here. I have assembled for the world today an arsenal of suitable responses for that moment when a parent tells you their child is autistic.
Level one. The beginner.
It’s your first time. It’s OK. Breath. You can get through this. Just remember DO NOT look sad.
Too much to ask for? Can’t control your gloom? Don’t worry, there’s a fix. Turn that pathetic attitude on you! Pity yourself for not being a member of the spectrum club and moan:
Wow. I just met you and your life already sounds way more interesting than mine.
First timers that are natural optimists might try:
You know what I love about autism? The jumping! It’s mesmerizing. The focus and power… it seriously should be an Olympic sport.
Level two. Intermediate:
Step up your game and learn the difference between Neurodiverse and Neurotypical. Then, use your words. How about:
It’s so exciting to live in this era of neurodiversity. I can’t wait to see where it takes us because I’m positive it’s going to be amazing.
Or (because self-pity can go a long way) say:
My house is full of boring neurotypicals (pout face). I hope you can carry this conversation because I got nothing to offer.
Level three. The enlightened:
You’ve been around the block. Your way isn’t the highway and you are totally OK with that. You know that the craziest thing you ever saw couldn’t have been by the simple fact that you are still alive.
Go for a smile with:
OMG. (dramatic face) THANK you for talking to me. Everyone else at this party is lame!
Of course you have a child on the spectrum. Autism is common in families of unusually high intelligence. Everybody knows that.
See? Easy. You are welcome. Not convinced? Still afraid you are going to trip over your tongue? No worries. I’ve got just the phrase for you. The moment a parent tells you their child is autistic, look them earnestly in the face and say:
I am paying for all your drinks this evening.